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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Committee guts Clean Elections

    PHOENIX – Less than a month after infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribing public officials, the House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved a bill that would gut Arizona’s Clean Elections laws.

    The bill, SCR 1013, would end public funding for election candidates under Arizona’s Clean Elections program and divert its funding to a newly created fund for domestic violence victims.

    The effort to gut the program was introduced late into the legislative session with the use of a “”strike-everything”” amendment offered by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa.

    The bill was initially offered by Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, but Pearce’s strike-everything amendment removed the original language of the bill, supplanting it with his bill to kill the Clean Elections system.

    Clean Elections is a voter-approved campaign finance system for candidates seeking statewide and legislative offices.

    It gives each candidate a limited amount of public money if the candidate agrees to clean election rules and can receive a specific number of $5 contributions from Arizona voters.

    Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, spoke passionately in favor of Pearce’s amendment. He said the Clean Elections system was deeply flawed and gives an advantage to clean election candidates in elections.

    Murphy explained that under current Clean Election laws, certain types of funds, like the small amount

    What is happening is that the special interest money is now going to the state political parties. We are making things more obscure.

    – Laura Knaperek,
    R-Tempe

    used to start up a new political campaign called seed money, are exempted for Clean Elections calculations.

    Murphy said a clean election candidate could raise ‘seed money’ and then ask for matching funds in the exact amount his or her opponent, running as a traditionally financed candidate, used for seed money. Under this system, he said, the clean elections candidate unfairly has an advantage.

    “”The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers,”” said Murphy of the current system.

    Murphy admits he ran as a clean election candidate but believes he was “”virtually blackmailed”” into the decision because of the advantages in using the Clean Elections system.

    “”Of course I ran as a clean election candidate. You play within the rules while you work to change them,”” Murphy said.

    Barbara Lubin, the executive director of the Clean Elections Institute, told the committee that adopting the 38-page amendment would be a disaster for Arizona.

    “”Mr. Pearce is trying to single-handedly undo decades of campaign finance reforms and bipartisan election law in what seems to be an effort to turn Arizona into the political scandal capital of the United States,”” said Lubin.

    The amendment would also allow the limit for individual contributions to a candidate to be radically increased, to $10,000 per election cycle for each candidate.

    Lubin said with campaign contributions set so high, Arizona would become prone to campaign finance scandals similar to the Abramoff ordeal.

    “”In other words, the Pearce approach to dealing with campaign and election scandals is to just legalize them. It reads like a 38-page tribute to Jack Abramoff,”” Lubin said.

    Murphy said Lubin was wrong, citing 13 states that have no limits on individual contributions.

    Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, said the Clean Elections system has done more harm than good. While the law was intended to dilute the influence lobbyists had on politicians with their campaign contributions, she said, it has pushed their influence underground.

    “”What is happening is that the special interest money is now going to the state political parties,”” said Knaperek. “”We are making things more obscure (with Clean Elections.)””

    Murphy said lobbyists now help the candidates by going out and getting the necessary amount of $5 contributions to get them on the ballot.

    Under state law, there are no laws requiring the disclosure of who has helped gather the $5 contributions from Arizona voters.

    Despite some flaws in the Clean Elections system, Rep. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, argued the program should be saved from Pearce’s amendment. He noted that 35 people signed up in opposition to the amendment.

    Lujan, who has visited other states explaining Arizona’s Clean Elections model to lawmakers in other states, said he believes the amendment is contrary to public opinion.

    “”Other states want to model this legislation, not do away with it,”” said Lujan.

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